Di ZhangLIS 5513 June 2012 What Intellectual Freedom Means to A Future Librarian What is IF? In my first assignment, I named three aspects that I thought were key toIntellectual Freedom: access to wide variety of opinions (points of view), access toinformation without restrictions, and freedom from scrutiny of informationbehaviors or content (privacy). I still consider these to be core principles that makeup intellectual freedom, although I have become more informed about the contextsand cases in which these principles play out in the real world. In this essay, I reflecton what I have learned in this course and how I intend to support intellectualfreedom as a future librarian. Why is IF important? The public library is actually an agency of the United States government thatis responsible for providing free and open access to information. As a public libraryemployee, I represent the government and I must defend the rights of individuals toaccess information representing a variety of viewpoints in all formats, includingbooks, audio and video recordings, digital media, websites, etc. The reason why IF isthe government’s concern is because the freedom of every individual to seek andreceive ideas and information from any and all points of view without scrutiny1isessential to a free democratic society. In a democratic society, free and open access1 This is the definition of intellectual freedom that I am currently working with.
to information affords people the resources for participation in self-education andself-government (i.e. the political process).The First Amendment protectsintellectual freedom via “freedom of speech.” In order to be truly free in speech,there must be an unhindered ability to reach an audience, namely the public. Thisrequires free and open access to information. Thus, the public library should thuscontent neutral and defend an individual’s right to access to all kinds of information. However, “free and open” does not mean total or unrestricted. Although thelibrary should protect the first amendment rights of users, it must also follow therest of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, relevant state constitutions, and courtinterpretations. For example, court decisions (Kreimer v. Bureau of Police for thetown of Morristown) have designated public libraries as a “limited public forum.”2People may use this public forum to exercise their First Amendment rights withoutgovernment interference with the content of that speech. However, the public forumis limited in the sense that the government may impose reasonable “time, place, andmanner” restrictions on speech. This translates to the library’s right to imposereasonable “time, place and manner” limitations on access to library resources,services and facilities. As a library staff member, I must be careful to adopt policiesand procedures that are content neutral, serve an important government interest,are applied objectively and consistently, and do not create barrier to the firstamendment right to freedom of access to information. At the same time, disruptivebehavior by an individual or a group which infringes on the rights of others may2Public record can be accessed at: http://www.ahcuah.com/lawsuit/federal/kreimer1.htm
warrant restriction of access to library resources, services and facilities to thatindividual or group. My Professional Position(s) I am fortunate to work for Seattle Public Library, an organization that hasnever removed a challenged book from the shelve for reasons related to content. Imight not be so lucky if I were to work in another library system. Ultimately,libraries are a community and are supposed to reflect community standards. Mostdefinitions of obscenity and pornography refer to the idea of ‘community standards,’which are not universal but are necessarily from a specific community. For example,many library systems choose to have filters installed on their computers; in fact,they can request federal funds to have this done. As an employee of a library system,I have a duty to abide by the policies of my particular library. That being the case, Iintend to consistently defend the right to free and open access information inwhatever capacity I can while still being attentive and understanding to those whochallenge library policies. If possible, I will advocate for free and open access toinformation in places and at times where First Amendment rights are beingchallenged, even if my own institution is doing the challenging. As a member of theALA, I will be able fortunate enough to be part of a large organization that iscommitted to IF and supporting defenders of IF. For example, I can requestprofessional,legal, personal, and financial assistance from several organizations thatsupport IF, such as the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund.
Why training is important As I move forward, I hope to learn more about intellectual freedom andeventually be able to conduct workshops on IF. It’s important to train all staffmembers within library systems because it ensures that everyone has a commonunderstanding of intellectual freedom and knows how to apply the library’s IFpolicies. Training should also cover skills needed to respond to patron challenges ofthese policies. Grey areas Even if I am generally committed to IF as I have defined it, there are stillproblematic cases in which access to certain types of information might be rightfullyrestricted. That is, defending access to everything is not necessarily ethical. We needto consider the ethics of using books/data created from unethical research, forexample Nazi medical research or theft of American Indians records [which belongsto a sovereign AI nation, not the United States] or other oppressed groups or dataobtained through other unethical means. I do not have a clear-cut philosophicalstance on this dilemma, but I recognize that there are many specific cases thatrequire librarians to consider and try to honor multiple perspectives and beliefsystems. I believe that this class has given me a framework to approach IF caseswith a better understanding of IF principles, the history of censorship, andcompeting interests in various kinds of cases, even if there are not always clear-cutanswers to every case.